Gus Dapperton is an enigma—with wardrobe, sonic profile, and visual components unlike any other, the 21 year-old solo artist from Warwick, New York is on his way to becoming something big. He’s looking forward to future, more film-focused projects and looking back over the childhood he draws his inspiration from.
Fingers devoid of jewelry after coming off stage from a sound check, Gus keeps his attire simple: grey zip-up hoodie, blue tartan pants, starch-white mid-calves, slightly dirty Air Force 1s. In one ear, he wears a pearl, while the other holds a gold hoop with the word “baby” inscribed through it. Oversized wire frame glasses dominate his face, but newly bleached hair recalls Gus’ affinity for individuality and eccentricity. He speaks quietly, playing nervously with his sock and picking at his already chipped reddish-pink nail polish. Gus selects his opening act Beshken’s green room as the best place to talk. His demeanor remains quiet but confident, and he opens up most when discussing what he is most passionate about: his art.
A product of rural New York’s hip-hop community, Gus utilized the creative skills he learned there to become one of the most innovative artists in indie music. He plays or produces all of the instruments on his songs and co-directs his videos. At just 21 years old, Gus has already accomplished more than most people his age think is possible. Having released two EPs, Yellow and Such followed by You Think You’re A Comic!, and with plans for a new full-length album in 2019, it’s safe to say Gus is moving full steam ahead.
Gus’ looks and sound catapulted him to his current icon status. Songs like “I’m Just Snacking,” “Prune, You Talk Funny,” and, most recently, “World Class Cinema,” draw the listener into a figment of Gus’ colorful, beautiful imagination. His songs often feature shimmering guitar melodies, syncopated drums, and luscious synth chords, but no one song is similar to the next—which matches his own individuality. He’s constantly changing, growing, developing his sound, and honing his craft. Each release is better than the next. “World Class Cinema” only serves as a testament to the fact that he is nowhere close to slowing down.
Working with director, close friend, and collaborator Matthew Dillon Cohen, Gus’ music videos resemble short films. He works painstakingly hard on his music, spending a year on average writing a single song, and spending months brainstorming and preparing his visuals. The attention to detail is illustrated throughout his work, with each video immaculately designed and every song masterfully produced.
As Gus Dapperton began the second half of his 2018 tour, we got the chance to meet up with him at his Boston show and talk everything from mid90s to his creative process to the backstory behind his newest single, “World Class Cinema.” Read below for the full interview.
How’s the tour been going?
It’s been going really good. We have a lot of new members on tour with us this time around, like we have an engineer, and someone doing live visuals, and now Beshken is on doing support with us and they’re also riding with us, so there’s a ton of new people involved. It’s just like, the more the merrier, it’s been just extra fun with everyone.
I’ve seen the visuals for the show have been really unique and interesting. How did you choose that or start working with that artist?
To be honest, I just reached out on social media to see if anyone would be interested in doing live visuals, and he [Evan Pearce] hit me up and was super dedicated and whatnot, and it didn’t work out the first tour because we didn’t have the ways and means to do it. But then this time around, I think hit him up like two weeks before we left, and I was like “Hey, you wanna just come on tour?” and he was like “Yeah, sure.”
Usually, it’s more about the person and less about the design of it all. So, I wasn’t too familiar with his visuals, aside from the couple things he sent me, but he’s a super great guy.
It seems like a lot of your music is linked with these visuals. You do your videos with deep, thought-out processes, so I wanted to know if there are sounds/memories that are really associated with one visual moment.
In general, my childhood and my youth inspire me, that kind of comes out in my physical appearance as well as my sonic image and whatnot. So just like the purity of my childhood and my youth and the colors of it all. I think just being like a toddler is just what lowkey kind of just comes out from it all.
Do you remember visually being a toddler, or are you drawing from photographs?
It’s a combination of both, I think when I look at pictures it brings back memories and stuff to be honest, and videos.
Your youth is really important to you, so we wanted to know how specifically your youth impacted you and brought you to where you are. What advice would you give to other kids like us who are on these paths?
I think being so naive, before you become an adult is kind of pure time period if you… I don’t know, just like exact creation and straight learning and nothing else to be unfocused about. I feel like that was the best time in my life and now I have to embrace and endure troublesome things that an adult would have to endure. So I think I’m always just looking back on that time period of growing up and whatnot, and I can’t get back any of those moments of growing up.
Do you guys get a lot of free time on tour to do what you want? I notice you skate – do you get time to skate?
We don’t actually, on this tour we haven’t had any downtime. We’ve had no days off, just show after show after show, we had one day off that was a travel day, so we were driving for like nine hours. We’ve had no downtime. Me and my drummer and my bassist, every time we stop at a gas station we’ll hop out of the car and just skate for like three, four minutes, and then get back in, but I think when we go out to the west coast, we will have a few moments of downtime to do it.
So, if you get time, do you want to see mid90s?
Yeah! Yeah, I do. That’s, like, another one thing—we always try to go see movies, but I think Beshken and José [Escobar] saw it.
Obviously, you’ve been on tour with people like Beshken, your friends, and your sister. Has that made the process [of touring] easier to endure?
One hundred percent. I don’t think I’d be able to tour without my sister and my best friends. Maybe I would just tour less, or do short runs. But we play so many shows now, but it’s just so fun. I think, subconsciously, we’ve curated the tour so the people on it, we all work really well together and just have fun regardless of the complications and things.
Is that one of the reasons you’ve announced your Europe tour now, going forward full steam ahead?
Yeah, well, to be honest, my booking agents will book a million shows, and they’re like, “Here’s what we set up, which ones do you not want to do? Like, how long do you want to go for?” And I was like, “Just go for it! I’m cool with it. I have nothing else better to do.” [laughs] I still write so many songs on tour, almost maybe more [than at home]. I’m not inspired by the weather, I really like when it rains. But I’m inspired by changes in my environment. I think I move a lot, like, I move once a year usually. It just kind of happened that way. But I’ve noticed I’m really inspired by changes in my environment so traveling just boosts my writing process so it kind of just works out really well. I wrote a whole album on tour.
Where do you usually write? On the bus, or somewhere else?
Yeah, right now I just recorded some vocals on my iPhone, and I just wrote on stage, and probably will send that to my computer and make a demo. And then as soon as I have a break, I’ll just record all of it when I get home.
You talk about your triple meaning in your lyrics. How do you pack that in? Do you reinvent your words as you go, or is it in the moment?
It’s a combination of, I have the general gist of the very real secret specific meaning to me, and then the literal meaning of, like the surface level meaning of what the song might be about, and then kind of morphing those two into a more like ambiguous metaphor, so sometimes it’s a combination of knowing exactly what I want to say, and then almost like writing the lyrics, and then figuring out what it means shortly afterward. So it’s like a combination of both, cause also, I grew up making hip-hop music, like producing it, so I grew up with a lot of rappers. I think that’s the one thing I really appreciate from coming up making hip-hop music, in the sort of singer-songwriter realm, is rhyme scheme wordplay is super important to me, so if something works really well within the rhyme scheme and the wordplay, what it means afterward, it’s like a combination of all of it.
So you’re writing something literal with that secret view in it that no one else gets?
Yeah. But some phrases are, like, full-on metaphors as well.
We were hoping you could talk about “World Class Cinema” and what that process looked like.
“World Class Cinema” is about the last relationship I was in, and, in general, most of my songs are about heartbreak and love and deceit and whatnot. The literal meaning of the song is about someone wanting to be in the movies, be an actor, like a musician wanting to be an actor, which is sort of a weird thing to be so forward about. The metaphor is about an erotic dream and wanting to savor this moment in this erotic dream. So me and this figment of my imagination want to make a sex tape to savor the moment when I wake up, so they’ll have it forever and I’ll have it forever, and that’s what wanting to be in the movies is about. Once you know that, I think for the rest of the song you can just pinpoint the lyrics. The secret meaning is about this toxic relationship I was in.
The idea will be lingering in my head until a moment is finished. I think last summer I went to L.A., and I saw Rose McGowan at this bar. I was talking to this girl, and we started dating shortly after when I went back to New York. She was talking about Rose McGowan in this movie that she was in. And I was like, “Oh, I saw Rose McGowan in this bar,” and she and her friend started laughing at me because I pronounced it wrong. So as an ode to that moment, I pronounced the lyrics irregularly. So that hook came about, and the melody came about. In October, right before Halloween, I sat down and wrote, made the demo and whatnot. Most of my songs take about a year to finish. I’ll start them and they’ll come, some are really short but they all take pretty long. I take really long to write songs. I think the shortest song I’ve ever written or made might’ve been like two or three weeks to make and record. So that was a full year of it kind of all coming together.
It seems like you’re collecting the moment as you go.
Yeah! Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I’ll not know them quite in the moments, and then a phrase sums up the whole thing, and I’ll get it.
In the introduction to “World Class Cinema,” you go on a rant about wanting to move away from music and get more into cinema. Does that have any personal truth for you? Are you looking to get more into movies?
Yes, yes, it does. I’m super focused on the music, but I put one hundred percent into every aspect of art that I’m involved in, so we put a hundred percent into all the music videos. Ultimately, we’d love to make a movie. We try to make our music videos like movies. I mean, I’m always telling him [director Matthew Dillon Cohen], and he’s always hyping me up. [laughs] He’s, like, shutting me down.
Listen to Gus Dapperton’s newest single, “World Class Cinema,” here.